“I CAME THROUGH AND I SHALL RETURN”

Sometimes inspiration flags, sometimes life gets in the way of writing. Blogs go into a state of suspended animation. 

Here are a dozen opening lines to be avoided when returning after a hiatus.

I’ve been away.

No-one noticed.

Did you miss me?

Nup.

It’s been ages since I’ve sat down at the keyboard.

And…?

Such a very busy time…

Naturally no-one else in the entire blogging world is busy.

So much has happened, I don’t know where to start.

Come back when you’ve worked it out.

Thank you to all my loyal readers who’ve waited patiently.

You hope.

I promised to post regularly and I haven’t.

Self-abasement is charming.

I feel terrible about not posting these last six weeks/months/decades.

Ditto grovelling.

I’m so grateful for the support of my readers.

Such authenticity. Anyway, they’re not yours.

I’ve missed you all.

But mostly I’ve missed having my ego stroked.

Most sincere apologies for the silence.

Enough breast-beating, already. Who’s actually upset?

It is so good to be back!

Translation: I’m shit-scared no-one will even remember my blog.

*

Above all, only publish when you actually have something worthwhile to offer.

Now, what was I going to write about…

*

Title quote: Doug MacArthur, Adelaide, South Australia, 1942.
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IN SEARCH OF SPACE

Space. The initial frontier.

Have you sometimes lost sight of your writing? There were times during the past three months when I simply forgot the existence of Lonely Keyboards. Yet as I sit here now I clearly recall the joy of beginning this second blog-that’s-not-always-about-music, and the thrill of engaging with a new audience. As it turned out the audience was not always new; some friends travelled across from Vinyl Connection, revealing different aspects of themselves from the world of music blogging. Often what was shared was more visible, more vulnerable, more human. I cherished those moments. It’s one thing to high-five when someone’s taste in music confirms your own good judgement, but it is quite another to breath deeply into another’s confusion, or struggles with creativity, or experience of grief and loss. 

Not that there has been an absence of writing: the weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) posts at Vinyl Connection keep me tapping away and spinning records most days. My fondness for connected series—currently the birth of progressive music—means I regularly feel impelled by a sense of completion to push out another missive. Sometimes that internal pressure squeezes the enjoyment a little, but I do it anyway. It has become a habit. And habits take up space.

A new writing gig began recently. Paid work. Writing album reviews for an on-line retailer. Someone said, ‘Bruce, that’s your dream job!’. Maybe it is; still too early to tell. But one thing is certain, adding another track of music writing onto the weekly playlist of activities has led to an increase in output. And a corresponding decrease in space.

Little time for reflection, then. 

Reflection. The the space where creativity swirls and ideas puff into existence.

What brought this into focus was happening across a newspaper column by a writer I knew, years ago. I enjoyed the piece (which was about celebrating the moment) and looked her up on social media. In no time an electronic connection snapped ‘on’, we’d exchanged email addresses and I had located her blog. Wondered whether she would find my blog. What’s that about? Establishing credentials? Sending a selfie? Found myself reflecting that Vinyl Connection is mostly straight music writing these days. The river of memoir-music stories may not have run dry, but it has slowed to a trickle. I kind of shrugged to myself. ‘It is what it is’. Then I remembered Lonely Keyboards, recalled the intoxicating (but scary) high after Goodbye Piper was picked up; the steady, inevitable decline of interest as I steadfastly avoided most return-follows, the settling in with a small but engaged readership who seemed interested in the inner experiences of writing and life… 

We reveal different personas in different settings. Both blogs are ‘me’, and neither.

Sometimes if you put yourself into a certain context, that will close a circuit inside you. Lenny Kaye once said, ‘Pick up a guitar and see who you become’. Maybe writers could say, ‘Start a blog and see who you are’. Who you are today, at least. Conduct an assay of your inner mineral deposits via qwerty. Test the quality of the interior air with a canary keyboard. Could be methane, could be gold.

But first you have to make the space, and be in the moment. Maybe even turn off the music for a bit, and listen.

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PIANO MAN

It was a Friday night when I got off the bus in Portland. There was a chill in the air. I was going to a restaurant to meet a pianist.

His name was Art and he had a gig playing jazz at an eatery downtown. I’d rather be composing, he said, and shrugged.

Quite an adventure, going to stay with a person I’d know for just a couple of intense weeks through a personal growth course in Northern California. I wouldn’t be so adventurous now, wouldn’t be so trusting. But Art was a cool dude and one of the smattering of non-therapists doing the training. We hung out a bit during breaks and I was able to stretch my limited knowledge of jazz into something that connected us.

On the final night we performed together, me reciting a poem I’d written a few days earlier while Art extemporised energetically on the careworn upright in the main hall. It was fun, even though his brilliant improvisations didn’t entirely coalesce with the song-like stanzas I’d crafted. Art wanted reading as dramatic as his playing and kept encouraging me to pump up the verses. I’ve always preferred poetry read in a slightly bored monotone—let the words add the energy, not the voice. My writing could use such toning down; too much vibrato sometimes. Still, we did something, Art and me. Something co-created, something new; it forms a bond. As the group disbanded the next day, returning to homes interstate or across the world, a farewell conversation with the venerable teacher revealed that he had not realised the poem was newly written about the journey we’d all taken. You wrote that? Huh! Thought it was from a book.

So I was in an unfamiliar city on a chilly early Autumn evening asking directions for Higgins Restaurant and Bar (or whatever it was called) from the entirely disinterested person behind the office window. And not for the last time, fell into the beginner’s trap of not specifying I was on foot. People just assume you have transport, even if you are carrying a pack and just got off a Greyhound. Just walk straight out the door and turn left, it’s not far.

Trudging up the wrong side of a six lane highway through the Oregon night I saw no-one. Shuttered windows and speeding cars with yellow, jaundiced eyes. Wondered about a cab but had no idea how to action that; no mobiles in those days. A weary ‘eventually’ later, I found the place. Stood on the door-step feeling nervous; sounds of eating and muted conversation from the lit interior. Sounds of piano, too. That gave me courage.

A whispered conversation with the Maître D’ then a small seat near the piano. Another basic instrument, better cared for. A nod from Art but not much else. Focussed on his playing. Diner attention on their meals or companions or conversations. Talking a bit louder when Art played a more energetic passage. I wondered if his frown was concentration or a reaction to the indifference of the audience.

Let’s go to Higgins, they gotta piano man on Friday nights.

Loud isn’t it, in this small space? Don’t worry, I think he’s almost finished. Dessert?

The artist’s life.

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A gift indeed. As was Art’s hospitality.

OBSTRUCTION

Here, idyll.

Surf in the distance, its soothing pianissimo thunder punctuated by the occasional foreground car.  Ultramarine sky.

But not one idea has done more than hover like a seagull over the shoreline. No stories, insights, flashes of inspiration. A brain made drowsy by a surfeit of summer. Or other things.

I’m a nighttime person, generally. Not that I sleep in. Middle-aged aches and a querulous bladder argue against bedly indulgence. So often the time after the boy and his mum head bedwards is when I imagine writing. Thinking fuzzied by the mealtime libation, ideas fogged by alcohol and the muddy lethargy that comes from watching summer sport on TV. An evening person, perhaps, but self-sabotage arises locally—a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Australian Open tennis evening sessions.

Lack of discipline is the most common get-out clause for writers trapped in a low orbit. As I trek through Irvin Yalom’s recently released memoir—a hero, I hate him—and read about his ‘mornings writing and afternoons exploring’ (Bali, Seychelles, Paris, Lake Como, Holy Homer, what a life) I recognise that under my sneering envy of his privilege lies an uncomfortable truth. I’ve never been willing to claim the keyboard. Really make a commitment and shoulder whatever sacrifice is required. The recent Rearview Mirror series at Vinyl Connection is my first attempt at greater-than-weekly writing in almost five years. Pathetic.

The surge of envy is entirely equal to the slough of self-hatred.

Self-confidence is vital in any endeavour. Somehow the ‘I can’ voice must overcome the stabs of doubt and the whispers of ineffectuality else the child is stillborn. Dead before arrival. Often thoughts and ideas appear on my inner screen like distant fireworks—brief explosions of light and muted cracks, low on the horizon and soon extinguished. Reading how Yalom spends time before sleep pondering and playing with plot and story ideas for the next day’s writing gets me thinking (again) about the ephemeral nature of my own sparks. A proper writer can bottle that lightning and tap it the next day like plugging into a wall socket. It’s not just practice, though that would help (as would a simple way to capture fleeting images). I remember lying outside at midnight in rural Jamieson, many years ago, sharing the rug with a friend as we gazed up at the Milky Way. She always seemed to be looking in the right place to see the meteorite. My sightings were peripheral; by the time my eyes flicked to the silver pencil-trail it was gone.

Yearning to decorate the sky, yet so muddily earthbound.

Brainbound, more accurately.
How to interrogate this process, despite its crushing familiarity.

An idea comes.

A writing idea, ‘cos that’s my thing.

Then something shuts down. Like a clamp, like a blanket. Like the night of an impenetrably empty space. As Piglet put it so eloquently, ‘A great big… Nothing’.

Invoking Pooh’s timorous wee friend is no accident. For all my ability to channel Owl-like pomposity and nihilistic Eeyore pessimism, it is the ever-fearful Piglet who is my enduring talisman.

An aside. I’m recalling the story where Piglet gets a bath—much against his wishes—and is highly uncomfortable until he has escaped and rolled himself in sufficient dirt to recover his familiar grubby persona. That feels a bit like me and therapy, to be honest.

Back to the brain. The shutting down syndrome. It’s a cerebral trauma response, where overload leads to stasis. Nothing revelatory there; the process is one I’ve been working through myself and with clients for decades. (Three ironic cheers for The Wounded Healer!). But we are not veering off into a psychological paper for two reasons. Firstly, I’m not remotely well-read enough on emerging research in neuropsychology to offer anything helpful, and secondly, I don’t want to. Correction: I am not able to. Even this level of disclosure has a part of me quivering with terror.

What’s to be done? Is this brain plaque capable of being dissolved by therapy and (or?) other healing processes?

Or writing? Around twenty years ago I purchased a book called Journalling For Joy. Ten years ago I took it out of the paper carry-bag. Still haven’t opened it though.

It feels like a race against time. Enough healing to write—really write, according to the desire of my crumpled heart—before the natural and unavoidable ageing process dusts away vocabulary from the mind’s blackboard, leaving only vague smears of regret… that’s the goal, I guess. Avoid regret.

Unless, of course, there’s a future in writing about not writing?

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